The History of Chateauneuf du Pape
As the name suggests, the history of this region is linked to several Popes. This history began in 1157 when Geoffroy, Bishop of Avignon, decided to respect the Roman tradition and cultivate vines in his fiefdom. Then in 1308, the illustrious Clement V, Archbishop of Bordeaux and the owner of Chateau Pape Clement (located in Pessac), followed in his predecessors footsteps and planted the grapes that made him one of the first producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Next it was the turn of Jean XXII to contribute to this legendary region. A great lover of wine, he built a castle in the region and created the name “Vin du Pape” or “Wine of Popes,” which will eventually be changed to Cheateauneuf-du-Pape.
Thanks to the large variety of grapes that characterize this wine, the appellation was resistant to phylloxera in 1866. The region was able to continue to build its reputation and even exported 2000 hectoliters in 1829. In 1894, a process of structuring the area began with the creation of a viticultural syndicate. It is this syndicate that expanded in 1911, when the Municipal Council established a commission of 34 producers forming the basis of the classification. Under the leadership of Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarié, the rules and regulations of production were put into place in 1923 to ensure high levels of quality. Following this hard work, the region then became an AOC in 1933.
The area of production includes 3200 hectares between Avignon and Orange. It includes the municipality of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and the similar soils of the neighboring municipalities of Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange and Sorgues. There are only three types of soils found within the region:
–Limestone deposits on an urgonian base. An ideal combination for the production of ample, aromatic white wines with a lovely freshness.
–Pebbled clays, the result of the accumulation of quartz and silica from the Alps by the Rhone River. These reflect the classical style of the appellation through generous, structured and well-rounded red wines.
–The sandy soils of the north reveal light red wines with notes of spices and great finesse.
The appellation, which dominates the plain of Comtat, is the driest region in the Côtes-du-Rhône. This is a result of the strong mistral winds and high annual sunshine rates. Heat stored in the stony soils during the day is released at night and provides a constant and consistent maturation, a phenomenon more commonly known as the “effet four” or “oven effect.”
A unique Appellation
The production of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is based on 13 different varietals, a special feature of the appellation that differentiates it from its neighbors. Like the rest of the Southern Rhône Valley, Grenache is the dominant varietal. Each varietal in the blend then brings its own unique characteristics to the wine. Cinsault provides warmth and softness. Syrah, Mourvèdre and Muscardin bring structure, color and freshness. Counoise is renowned for its vinosity, its freshness and its aromatic bouquet. For the white wines, which represent only 6% of the production, the varietals that are used most are Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Roussanne. They deliver wines full of fruity freshness, minerality and delicacy.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape is also differentiated by the bottle; a bottle both unique and iconic. The emblazoned bottle, created in 1937, is marked with a badge symbolizing the papal crown over the keys of Saint Peter and surrounded by the words “Châteauneuf-du-Pape contrôlé.” This mark provides collective value and a unifying element across the appellation’s producers. In addition, the rules of the AOC, based on propositions from the growers, are very restrictive. Harvesting is done by hand, under ripe or damaged berries are discarded, yield is limited to 35 hectoliters per hectare (one of the smallest in France) and planting density is low. A combination of factors and conditions which guarantees the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines will honor its reputation and maintain consistent quality.